The Union government on Wednesday told the Bombay High Court that it will not notify till July 10, its proposed fact-checking body with the power to flag any information about the central government as “fake, false or misleading”, PTI reported.
In April, the Centre had told the court that it would not notify the body till July 5. On Wednesday, the date was extended till July 10.
A bench of Justices Gautam Patel and Neela Gokhale was hearing a petition by stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra challenging the constitutional validity of the new amendment to the Information Technology Rules. The amendment, notified on April 6, regulates online gaming and news related to the Union government.
In his petition, Kamra argued that the identification of what is fake and false news cannot be done by the Centre as it would amount to the government being a judge in its own cause.
Two new petitions have now been filed against the amendments by the Editors Guild of India and the Association of Indian Magazines, Bar and Bench reported. The Editors Guild contended that the provision violates the Information Technology Act, 2000, as well as the right to freedom of speech and expression under the Constitution.
The press body’s petition contended that the government’s fact check unit disputing the veracity of a news item will “obliterate the publisher’s freedom to publish and citizen’s right to access such information”.
On Wednesday, the High Court told the Centre to file its response to the petitions by June 20. The matter will be heard next on July 6.
On April 24, the High Court had said that on a prima facie basis, the amendment to the Information Technology Rules does not seem to offer protection to parody or satire. “The problem here is the rule however well-intentioned, doesn’t have the necessary guard rails,” the court had then observed.
However, the Centre said in an affidavit that false and misleading information could adversely damage electoral democracy, the economy and the social fabric of the country in many ways.
It justified the fact-checking unit saying that most of the news shared on social media in India is produced by common users who do not have the means to verify the information.